These are times that try men's souls. Not only have the Browns opened with an anemic 0-2 start, they were humiliated by Jamal Lewis' epic 295-yard rushing day. Clips of that dark achievement are destined to be replayed in perpetuity, sitting right alongside The Drive, The Fumble, and Red Right 88 on the Browns Calamities shelf at ESPN Classic studios.
Browns fans may have taken the loss hard, but no one realized just how much it had affected Butch Davis. The front office had been concerned about its head coach for over a year, as it watched him load the roster with "versatile" players. Everyone seemed able to play two, three, even four positions—yet no one excelled at one. Anthony Henry, Lew Sanders, Chris Crocker—were they safeties or corners? No one was quite sure. The Browns receiving corps was stuffed with ex-quarterbacks, the offensive line riddled with mediocre guys who could play every position.
But after the Ravens tilt, something in Butch Davis snapped. On Wednesday, the coach abruptly cut promising third-string QB Josh Booty to make space for an unemployed center-turned-guard in Craig Osika. Apparently Butch Davis has an unhealthy predilection for centers. In his first two drafts, Davis had drafted two linemen on the first day—both centers—and added a long snapper in the fifth round of this year's draft. Another converted center—Shaun O'Hara—mans the right guard spot for the Browns.
After the bizarre Osika signing, Insider columnists start hearing scary things about the Browns head coach. Davis has apparently disappeared, holed up in a bunker somewhere southwest of Cleveland. What's worse, he's in there swinging deals. The Osika fiasco is bad enough, but panic breaks out when officials learn that over the past 24 hours Davis has signed four more centers to the team, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Shaquille O'Neal, Sergei Federov, and Lisa Leslie of the WNBA.
By the time the Cleveland Browns take the field Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, the team has no fewer than nine centers on the active roster. Carmen Policy has ordered stadium security to apprehend Davis on site, fearing that the loose-cannon coach could be a danger to himself and others. What Carmen couldn't know is that Butch Davis has a plan. A strange, twisted, ridiculous plan—but still a plan.
It unfolds at the coin toss. Kelly Holcomb and Tim Couch trot out to the 50 yard line only to be met by Browns capologist Lal Henegan, who hands each their walking papers. The crowd at Candlestick Park goes silent, flummoxed by the turn of events, even as a small group of Browns fans near the end zone goes ballistic. San Francisco police in full riot gear storm the section as the frenzied faithful toss beer bottles, shout obscenities, and set fire to Couch and Holcomb jerseys. It feels just like a home game.
On the field, Butch Davis' maniacal genius comes to light. San Francisco may have some very talented cornerbacks, but they've never faced a receiving corps like this. With Kevin Johnson under center, the Browns produce a six tight-end set that consists of Darnell Sanders, Steve Heiden, Osika (himself a former TE), O'Hara, Ilguaskas, and Shaq. The first play from scrimmage isn't even designed to produce yardage. KJ rolls out and tosses the ball out of bounds even as Shaq, O'Hara, and Ilguaskas combine on a lethal pick that levels both 49er cornerbacks. Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph leave the game with concussions.
Two plays later the Browns are forced to punt. But the Niners are staring at a calamity. The entire defensive backfield is in the locker room getting X-rays. And when wide receiver Tai Streets twists an ankle trying to fill in as a nickel back on third down, the wheels come off the 49er bandwagon.
Niners QB Jeff Garcia lasts exactly one play behind a banged up offensive line. Gerard Warren collapses the pocket so violently that Garcia pinballs off his own center right into the onrushing Courtney Brown and Kenard Lang. Garcia loses his helmet, mouth piece, left shoe, and the football in the collision. Browns linebacker Ben Taylor scoops up the ball and rumbles into the end zone for the score.
Ecstatic, Taylor dives into the Browns section and earns himself a frightful mauling for his trouble. By the time the linebacker climbs out of the teeming, drunken mass of rabid fans, he's missing his helmet, mouth guard, and [i]both[/i] shoes. It doesn't matter. Unable to find another pair to fit him, Taylor plays the rest of the game [i]in his socks[/i], and records three sacks on a thoroughly overwhelmed Tim Rattay.
For Dennis Erickson and the 49ers, the game rapidly spins out of the control. Behind by 75 points, Rattay tries to air it out to his lone healthy receiver, Terrell Owens. Alas, the Browns faithful are burning the seats in the west end zone, creating a pall of black smoke that obscures the playing field and makes it impossible for National Guard choppers to descend on the scene. Coach Butch Davis uses the darkness to work the sideline, foiling Policy's attempts to rein him in.
Rattay throws a Hail Mary into the murk only to see a rampaging Courtney Brown emerge from the darkness. The former first-round draft pick, playing linebacker in a modified 3-4 defense, has picked off the pass and rumbles 60 yards untouched for a touchdown. The score puts the Browns ahead by 81 points with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter. The officials, unable to see the goalposts in the heavy smoke, finally call a merciful end to the game.
And that's the way I see it. GMD